You may not know this, but for almost a decade, I suffered from debilitating panic attacks. I didn’t know what they were at the time and every few months, I would find myself in a doctor’s office or emergency department with a plethora of reports to my name: blood work, CAT scans, MRI’s, ultrasounds, x-rays, EEGs, and EKGs. No one could figure out what was wrong, and never for one minute did I think my mind could be making me so violently ill.
It took a great deal of investigating and personal research about my symptoms to begin to put the pieces of the puzzle together. After seven years of suffering and fearing the next attack, I finally knew what was going on. I was experiencing repetitive panic attacks. Wave after wave after wave of attacks that would last two weeks at a time, keeping me bed ridden with nausea, dizziness, pain, migraines, and even a low grade fever. My mind had taken over my body and was controlling it like a helpless marionette. But knowledge is power. Once I learned what was happening, I was determined to make it stop, determined to get my life and my body back under conscious control.
One of those interventions involved recognizing panic and anxiety the moment it started. I gave my anxiety a name: Bob. I got very good at sensing the warning signs, the little indications that Bob was going to pay me a visit, and when that happened, I would dance.
My heart would race, my hands would turn clammy, and the surging wave of panic would start to build, but instead of letting it take over, I seized the reins and turned on my stereo. I cranked up the bass and danced and jumped, turned and twirled until Bob slunk back to his hiding place.
Bob doesn’t come around much anymore. But there are occasions where I still feel anxious. Speaking in front of groups is one of them.
Last night I had to get up in front of a lovely supportive group of writers and read an excerpt from my new novel Avelynn. I’m getting better at calming the nerves, but each time I get up behind a podium, I’m reminded how much I need to keep practicing. It’s like building a muscle at the gym. The more I use it, the stronger it gets.
I talk all the time in my yoga classes. I’ll ramble on about life, wellbeing, the chakras, philosophy, or even regale the class with amusing antidotes and jokes to lighten the mood during a tough set of poses. I don’t get nervous, and I can talk for hours.
Years ago I was involved in local theatre, once even delivering a monologue twenty-six, single-spaced, typed pages long. It was a feat of memorization and iron clad balls. But I did it, in front of a room full of strangers and discriminating judges. I preformed on stage in several plays, never once feeling nervous or worried about missing a line. But then out of nowhere something changed. I blame hormones.
I had just given birth to my third beautiful son when I started having terrifying dreams of getting up on stage and forgetting my lines. Despite the fact this had never before happened, the fear seeped into my consciousness, and I had to quit the theatre. Flash forward several years, and too many panic attacks to count, and getting up to talk in front of even one or two people became challenging.
I was determined to get my anxiety under control and enrolled in Toastmasters, a wonderfully supportive group that encourages you to step out of your comfort zone and lasso fear for good. I learned a lot during my time in the group. The most important? Practice makes perfect and reading out loud, in front of others, over and over again slowly desensitizes you to the fear.
I still get nervous reading, but no one else seems to notice. My hands still tremor a little, my knees still quake, but my voice is strong and confident. My relationship with public speaking is now healthy. It won’t be long before I can step back onto that stage as if it’s just another day in the yoga studio. 🙂 xo